Learning to let go; releasing resentment and control

This summer, it’s shaping up to be wet and muggy. Honestly, I hoped to be elsewhere by now. I’ve made no bones about how I feel about a deep south summer; they stink. (I promise this whole post is NOT a rant about summer.) But last night as I was journaling, when I answered the “What do you need let go of today?” question, I said, I need to let go of resentment over being here for summer.

I have to tell, staring at your honest unfiltered words on paper is a terribly humbling experience most days.

Friends, how much energy am I wasting over being pissed at summer for…well…being summer and for my lack of control over it? So much, apparently.

Which got me to thinking, how widespread is this issue for me? I expend so much concern and frustration over things I do not now, nor will I ever, have the power to influence or change. Global things like the weather, intimate things like failed relationships, family things like what if something bad happens to someone I love.

Yesterday, I shared about uncertainty, which seems to have unleashed a chain-reaction of insight. Not only do I try to distract myself from the discomfort of uncertainty, I actively try to reverse it. It’s like I’m bailing with a teacup after my rowboat was hit by a freighter. So much effort expended with less than zero possibility of affecting the outcome.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me that this is why I really needed a period of hibernation. I can’t escape the daily deluge of crap that seems to threaten the existence of the entire planet. Most of which, I cannot control.  Raging against everything has depleted me utterly.

I must learn to let go.

Now I wish I could expound upon how I will go about all this letting go (a minimalist shouldn’t struggle with this so much, you would think). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it will look. But I have to do this for my own well-being. I’m beginning to realize these internal seismic tremors aren’t just spiritual. They signal shifts that occur across every aspect of my life: relational, physical, emotional and spiritual. I can’t dismantle one and leave the others intact. Everyone’s along for the ride.

Fortunately, I believe in the saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Having experienced this before, I believe I am already learning to let go, even before I knew why I was learning. Meditation, journaling, withdrawing from harmful places and situations are all tools of release. Even when I didn’t know why I needed them, I was practicing them.

So here I am, ready to tolerate summer (hey, it’s a stretch to ask me to embrace it), and lean into being exactly where I am for one more sweaty season. Even if it isn’t comfortable, it can still be very, very good. And I can learn to let go of what is not, without trying to fix it.

Post traumatic growth: finding answers in experience

Yesterday I threw a question out into the universe: where do I go from here? It seemed that I had reached an impasse, one I’m not sure how to get past. As a person of constant questions, I often ask things without expecting a response. I certainly didn’t this time. But sometimes the universe is simply waiting for us to ask the right question. It’s as though God knows until we open our souls to the answer, She’ll only be giving a gift to someone with clenched fists. On so many occasions I have to wait and wait and wait some more for answers. But this time, the Spirit was only waiting for me to ask to whisper her guidance over me.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast I listen to infrequently (It’s a lovely podcast, we just don’t always click personality-wise because I am a grumpy curmudgeon. This the episode on anxiety caught my eye). Very briefly in that episode, they mentioned this episode of On Being about resilience which I listened to on my run this morning.

Holy Malloy. HOLY MALLOY! (this is what I say when swearing is inappropriate)

I wish I knew the word for how it feels when you hear the click of answers falling into place in your soul. Even though I didn’t receive a neon sign or a carefully detailed map, with just a few words, I received clarity for the next steps in my recovery process. I don’t need specific answers about what may be next, as long as I can see part of the path that will get me there.

Do you ever have these moments? You know the ones. Suddenly we gasp aloud as an electric thought jolts us into wakefulness. We hear or see or experience something so sweetly tuned to our soul that likely no one else can hear it the same way. In fact, it’s often the case that these gifts are specifically meant only for us.

The summer after my friend Natalie died, everywhere I looked were ones. When Nattie ended an excited sentence, she used exclamation marks…like this!!! Except, she always released the shift key too soon, so instead we got this…!!!!11. Those ones were so much a part of her, and after she was gone, the world around me was filled with ones. Maybe it always is, but that summer they were for me and no one else. I was specifically open to receive those ones. They were reminding me when random terrible things happen, life still has meaning. We have the power to make meaning through our own experience. 

It’s easy for me, when I reach what seems to be a dead-end, to fall back into learned helplessness. Accepting that I don’t have the power to change things is a familiar neural path for my thoughts to travel. This morning, however, I was literally shoved from that path onto a new one. I encountered a new perspective, a new way of healing, and permission to take back my spiritual experience as my own. What a silly thing to need permission for, huh? But apparently I did need it, and this morning the universe poured permission into my soul at fire hose volume.

I allow the probability that a relationship can break beyond restoration. That happens sometimes in this life. Depending on the relationship, this unresolved stress cycle can continue to cause trauma – relational, emotional, perhaps even spiritual. But just as I can receive permission, I can also withdraw permission. I can close doors, declare an end, if not geographically than relationally, taking back whatever power I relegated into their care. I can own myself, and all the pieces of myself again.

Are you waiting on permission to own all the pieces of your life? It’s already yours. We can make meaning from our experience if we are open to receiving it.



Making space for emotional and spiritual health

In May, I stayed pretty busy. It was a good sort of busy. I felt like I was growing and contributing and celebrating important events. Not at all the wheel-spinning busyness that is exhausting with nothing to show for it. This month, and likely this entire summer, is intentionally much slower. It’s a time for more internal work rather than external work. Time to take the lid off my emotional and spiritual health and stir it up a bit, see what floats to the surface.

Healing from trauma is interesting. For awhile you have to look trauma in the eye. Then you have to step back a bit and let it all settle again. If you move too quickly, you end up with a worse wound than you had to begin with, but if you wait too long, or leave the work unfinished, it festers. Last month was a good time to step away and let the dust settle a bit. Now I can more clearly see the things which still require attention.

This week, I did some work with understanding spiritual trauma, and some research on anxiety, both causes and techniques to deal with it. Unfortunately, these things snag all my triggers. Here a trigger, there a trigger, everywhere a trauma trigger. I’ve meditated so much I dream about meditation, not even kidding. I’m not as worried about depression anymore, but stepping away from that lethargy means engaging with things that are difficult.

I journal, and share with some of the people I trust, but none of these things change the fact that I am currently in an unresolved stress cycle. This means I that I can’t escape from the thing which triggers my fight or flight reaction. It’s a frustrating situation. In many ways I my emotional and spiritual health is improving. However, until I can break free of this cycle, I face the probability of regular set backs .

I see the problem, but I’m currently unable to solve the problem.
And so the question remains, where to I go from here?
My guess is figuring this out, will be my work for this summer.

In praise of small, slow changes

Am I the only one in denial that we are headed into summer, into the sixth month of 2017, into the second half of the year soon? I surely can’t be. But here we are, ready or not. I’ve always aspired to do a better job of tracking goals, habits and changes in my life. While I haven’t done this as efficiently as I would have liked this year, I have noted small, slow differences. In fact, last week in my journal I began a list of changes and accomplishments for the first half of 2017.

As I was making my list (I’m still adding to it as things come to mind), I realized it’s not terribly impressive to anyone but me. In fact, many of the “accomplishments” are small, incremental changes which no one else may even notice. This bothered me for a while, until I realized who better to notice change within myself than myself? To make changes or go after accomplishments for accolades, or worse, because someone else imposes those changes upon you, is to be burdened with unhealthy responsibilities and expectations. In fact, the healthiest choice I can make, is to seek to change myself due to internal motivation regardless of external acclaim.

Last week in Celebrate Recovery, I received the privilege of celebrating some huge life accomplishments with a friend. As she excitedly told me about these changes in her life, her eyes shone and her shoulders straightened. She stood tall and confident, “I’m not sure I remember a time when I was so proud of myself!”  I cried right there while I hugged her, not only for her joy, but because I know that feeling too.

Sometimes, we let cruel messages from the world, from people we thought we could trust, from spiritual “authorities” sink into our soul. Not enough, too broken, unfit, dangerous.  These messages brand themselves over our true identity, blotting out what we thought we knew. Leaving us with something to prove. So we adjust in order to fit in. We try to live up to other people’s expectations and agendas. We jump through hoops, as dependent on being noticed for what we’ve done as any addict is for the next hit.

Two years in recovery has taught me my drug of choice is acceptance. I’ll do whatever I have to to get it, even if it means losing myself completely.

Now back to my little list, this is what it tells me: I’m getting better. I’m on the path to my true self again.  If I am perfectly content making changes that no one notices but me, I am on the way to mental and emotional health. I’ve looked at that list a ridiculous number of times the last few days. Each time I do, an unfamiliar feeling swells in my chest.

It’s pride. Pride in myself, for myself.

This week I’m praising slow, small changes. I’m praising myself for making them. I’m giving thanks for the people who held space, held my hands and made me feel safe enough to try. And I’m trusting the Spirit whose presence tells me I don’t have to fit in, because she fits within me. I’m praising another day, another week, another year where I don’t have to change for anyone but me.

Becoming: How I’m rediscovering anticipation

The week long celebration of all the good things in my life has ended, which is a good thing. If every day were a celebration, then soon enough, no days would be. There is a season…and all that jazz.  As much as I love a good lay around and indulge myself day, Eventually, I want my routine. I thrive on anticipation of what’s next, but only so long as I know what it is. Surprise is not my strong suit, at least, not the complicating kind. Boring or not, I adjust slowly, and irritably, to sudden change. In this, as in so many things, I can either fight against my personality or embrace it. I’ve decided to finally, after too many years of beating myself up for who I am.

I’ve considered these upcoming summer months for a few weeks now. May races by like a dervish, throwing parties, graduations and program endings near daily. Previous summers we’ve done a form of “school light,” but this year, different in nearly every way, we won’t. School’s out for summer – at least, at the end of the week it is. School’s out, programs are ended, life will slow and still, requiring little of me, a speed I very much enjoy.

It’s easy, I’ve discovered, to lose myself in busyness and distraction. I can do it even when life is slow and still, perhaps even better than when too many things are clamoring for my attention. This summer I’m creating intentional habits and routines to prevent this slide into disarray. I may not have much I have to do, but I often don’t anticipate well by creating space for the things I want to do. Instead I fall into distraction. I invent ways to elude self-awareness and focus. Self-awareness can be discomforting when you focus on internal disruption, and I tend to avoid discomfort when I can.

However, self-care keeps jumping up and slapping me in the face. After years of being responsible for the raising of young humans, I’m graduating too.  My decades of hands-on, day in and day out parenting were the most beautiful, crazy and fulfilling ones yet. To be given the gift of presence in my own children’s lives has been the defining characteristic of mine. But time moves on, and the definition is changing. Although it feels sudden, it’s truly not. It’s merely the thing we’ve been moving towards for the last twenty years.

Still, I plan to allow myself the grace to adjust slowly to whatever the new definition is. I’m not certain myself, yet which is terribly unsettling. This summer I will embrace the discomfort and the adventure of self-awareness, listening to who I am and what I want.  The years ahead will be fundamentally different than the ones before, and I must be different in them, or flounder and despair.

One day last week, I came to a sobering realization. I can’t remember the last time I felt excitement for whatever happens next. Part of that feeling is depression talking, a voice which is receding now, another part is learned helplessness, the rest is my resistance to acknowledge a life change. It’s time to evaluate everything, even myself, especially myself, in light of this entirely new season.  I can’t continue to wear my winter clothes and expect to be anything but ill-suited to this emerging spring. Not only do I realize this now, I feel excited, at last, about the possibility of it all. I anticipate becoming me again.

Summer is coming and I am becoming in it. This is a scary and wonderful thing.

Hello, goodbye: A self-care guide for my next year

If you haven’t guessed by this week’s writing, it’s a churned-up emotional time here at Palace MoJoy.  MoJoy, in fact, is in short supply. While I purposed internally at the start of this little project to avoid making this a platform for political diatribe – don’t worry, I still won’t – I also can’t change how the political atmosphere affects me emotionally. It’s a self-care nightmare for many of us.  Today my anxiety is sky high and learned helplessness is running frantic laps around my brain muttering, “We’re doomed. DOOMED!” under her breath.

My therapist moved out of town, dang it.

Still, I can’t continue like this emotionally. I can’t be always angry, and the way to stop this cycle is to pull the plug. In the month before the election, I had to step away from social media in order to stop feeling anger towards everyone and everything, all the time. I couldn’t manage my anger so I cut off its supply. It worked, until the nightmare of election night.

However, next week is my birthday week and my 21st cancerversary (you better bet I’ll toast that milestone, and not with Bud Light in the Rose Garden), I don’t want to spend the whole week outraged and offended. I can’t expend all my energy on processes over which I have only miniscule control and which drag on in agonizing slowness.

So, I’m unplugging. It’s all too much, too big, too heavy, too awful. And I’m not a very kind person in the middle of it.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in self-care. I’m teaching it, preaching it, and learning more about it. But I’m not very good at practicing what I already know.  Lately, social media is more about escapism than connection, and it’s an escape which usually leaves me more distraught than whatever it was I was seeking to distract myself from. It’s a draining cycle with only one solution.

Stop it.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I’ve changed since my last birthday. I’ve drawn some hard lines, rebooted some relationships and just booted others. I lost a pants size and gained reading glasses. So much healing and self-awareness has happened in my soul. I don’t want to go start my 45th year angry and defeated. I need more Truth and less rhetoric. If I can’t change the political climate of the nation, I can at least work to cultivate peace in my soul.

So be it.

PS I still have seventy days of writing ahead of me, so this little corner of the internet will still have new content daily.

Internal rebellion: Fighting against learned helplessness

I struggle with a sense of learned helplessness, a condition where a person gives up trying to affect change during difficult circumstances or toxic relationships. When I believe nothing I do will make any difference, I give up. In fact, I sometimes believe anything I do will only result in more pain, so I try to disappear entirely.

Several years ago I had an emotionally and spiritually abusive relationship with an authority figure. Obviously, it didn’t start that way. The changes were subtle, and because I was not familiar with the psychology of control, I didn’t read the signs.  The relationship lasted for years, but the power play escalated slowly. When I finally deviated too far from the desired behavior and could not be controlled, the retribution was immediate and devastating.

Unfortunately when dealing with trauma, we are often our own worst enemies. I allowed the counsel of others and my own, critically injured, self-esteem to tell me I was responsible for my pain. My choices bore the sole responsibility for damage inflicted on myself and my family. I became the enemy. For years I allowed other’s perceptions control over how I acted and how I responded rather than trusting myself.

Even though the abusive relationship ended the day of my ‘punishment,’ the influence of the relationship did not. Shrapnel embedded in a person’s body can take years to work its way to the surface.  So too, emotional shrapnel, while not visible, continues to cause pain and damage as it works through the soul. My response to trauma was to do whatever was necessary to ensure no one was ever unhappy with me. I used to have a dog who had been so abused he practically begged every person he met to not kick him.  He and I have a lot in common.

Even though I have experienced a great deal of healing, I still struggle with falling into self-destructive behavior patterns. The abusive relationship is long past, but shadows and echoes linger, sometimes, in current relationships. When this happens I want to cringe and beg or disappear.  I still experience learned helplessness in situations where it seems I can do nothing right, and I still deeply fear retribution because of my failure to please.

On Wednesday, I wrote about being self-aware that I’m circling dangerously close to depression. Learned helplessness is one of the fastest rides down that road. These next one hundred days of writing— now 96 – are my way of pushing back.  There are circumstances in my life which I cannot resolve. But each day I can summon the courage to write, no matter what others may think.  I can reframe the narrative which tells me I should disappear. By taking back control of my voice, I’ll spit in the eye of the messenger who tells me I don’t measure up to an impossible standard.

This is my story. This is my song. No one gets to silence it, not even me.